UK will pay for Roche breast cancer drug at center of price row

LONDON (Reuters) - A Roche breast cancer drug at the center of a prolonged pricing row in Britain will now be paid for routinely, following a discount deal between the company and the National Health Service (NHS).

FILE PHOTO: Roche tablets are seen positioned in front of a displayed Roche logo in this picture illustration, January 22, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Kadcyla, which can prolong the lives of some women with advanced disease, has been a battle-ground for campaigners wanting better access to modern cancer drugs, with 115,000 people signing a petition demanding its availability.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said on Thursday it could now recommend funding for Kadcyla, following the new commercial access arrangement with Roche. Details of the discount offer were not disclosed.

“Today’s announcement on Kadcyla shows that for companies who are willing to work with us, there are concrete gains for them, for the NHS and most importantly for patients able to get new and innovative drugs,” said NHS England chief Simon Stevens.

At its full list price, Kadcyla costs about 90,000 pounds ($115,000) per patient, according to NICE, although Roche says this figure is exaggerated because the drug is typically given for shorter periods than NICE assumes.

Until now, the drug has only been covered by the Cancer Drugs Fund, which finances drugs not routinely paid for on the NHS. With the medicine moving to routine use, around 1,200 women could now be eligible to receive it.

Roche, the world’s biggest supplier of cancer medicines, has expressed frustration in the past at the rigid system used in Britain to determine value for money in cancer care, with CEO Severin Schwan describing the system as “stupid” in 2015.

The company’s UK general manager Richard Erwin welcomed the new deal as a “positive” development on Thursday.

Industry critics, however, argue that medicine prices are rising far faster than inflation, especially in cancer treatment, and returns demanded by the industry on newly launched products are unsustainable.

Kadcyla is designed for women with so-called HER2 positive breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, cannot be surgically removed and has stopped responding to initial treatment.

The medicine combines Herceptin with a tumour-killing drug that is carried directly into cancer cells, causing fewer cases of common chemotherapy side effects like hair loss.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Adrian Croft and Mark Potter